Human rights are under attack; who will protect them?

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Globally, human rights remain under assault, whether by populist movements desperate to gain power or authoritarian governments eager to maintain it. Technology has opened up new frontiers for curbing people’s ability to express and share dissenting ideas. And broad assaults are underway on institutions like the International Criminal Court, which was established not only to offer recourse for the victims of rights violations, but to establish an international human rights benchmark. Instead, it is being replaced by a dangerous intolerance.

Around the world, populist authoritarians have built their movements by demonising minorities. In Brazil, for instance, newly elected President Jair Bolsonaro revelled in his provocations calling into question women’s rights as well as those of the LGBT and indigenous communities. With their verbal assaults, these leaders and the movements that follow them are inspiring people to commit acts of physical violence. In just a matter of months, Jews have been targeted in Pittsburgh, Muslims in New Zealand and Christians in Sri Lanka.

At the same time, the populist rise has invigorated civil society efforts to protect historically marginalised communities, including members of the LGBT community, religious minorities and indigenous groups.

Scholars have covered human rights issues in detail and continues to examine key questions about new developments. Where are efforts underway to protect human rights, and what additional steps might be taken? What role can technology play in preserving human rights, and how can it be circumscribed by authoritarian regimes? And what are the other emerging fault lines?

At their peak, the protests that rocked Moscow this summer, demanding fair city council elections, crackled with urgent energy. For the young activists who took part, they were only the beginning. More opportunities to protest are coming into view for the generation that has grown up under Vladimir Putin.

Women’s right and gender equality

While women’s rights have made great strides worldwide in terms of legal protections, in practice women continue to face challenges ranging from violence and wage discrimination to unfair family law and social customs. Despite some recent successes, like the lifting of Saudi Arabia’s driving ban, gender equality around the world remains far from reality.

While women’s rights have made strides worldwide in terms of legal protections, in practice women continue to face challenges ranging from violence and wage discrimination to unfair family law and social customs.

LGBT rights

Despite the gradual introduction of protections for members of the LGBT community in some countries, they remain under threat in much of the world. Meanwhile, the rise of populist movements in Europe and elsewhere has called into question previous gains made by LGBT activists.

Religious minorities

Recent attacks in the United States, New Zealand and Sri Lanka point to a worrying rise of violent intolerance for religious minorities. But even where violence remains the exception to the rule, protections for religious minorities around the world are often more de jure than de facto.

Indigenous rights

While indigenous communities are under assault around the world, disputes over resource extraction have emerged as a critical fault line, particularly in Latin America. Elsewhere, political and economic marginalisation continue to pose difficult challenges. (

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